Thursday, 21 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part four

Worn Gallo-Belgic A gold stater typical of British finds
Image courtesy  of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
Yesterday, I quoted a passage from the introductory chapter of Rethinking Celtic Art which included:
For other periods of the Iron Age, such as its very beginning, it has been realized that artifact types once thought to have continental derivation, such as Gündlingen swords, may in fact have a derivation either within the Thames region or within Britain and Europe jointly (O'Connor 2007). Hill (2007): 25) has hinted that a similar situation may pertain for so-called Gallo-Belgic coins; the name hinting at external origins when a shared genesis may be more likely.
Considering that one of the authors of this chapter is J. D. Hill, I have to wonder why he says that he hinted at something in another work, and yet is not more explicit about it in this one. Following the vague reference to some sort of joint derivation within Britain and the Continent (which should mean that the idea sprang into existence at the same time in two places as an amazing coincidence) comes yet another hint -- that the origin of Gallo-Belgic coins more likely includes Britain. The name "Gallo-Belgic" is best understood as from France and Belgium. The first words out of Caesar's mouth in his Commentaries are, "Gaul comprises three areas, inhabited respectively by the Belgae, the Aquitani, and a people who call themselves Celts, though we call them Gauls." (DBG, I.1.1.) The ancient regions of the Gallo-Belgic coinage include Belgica and Celtica, but most of the coins are attributed to the Belgic tribes. The earliest of the these coins are Gallo-Belgic A (illustrated above). We know that they are the earliest because (a) they have a greater gold content than the others, and (b) because the types (generally) become gradually more abstracted over time and this is combined with a lowering of the gold content and the weight of the coins. You can see all of the types listed on Robert Van Arsdell's Celtic Coinage of Britain -- the link goes to the first of three plates which illustrate the entire Gallo-Beligic series. Move your mouse cursor over each coin to get an enlargement and further details such as tribal attribution and weight etc.

Over time, tribal attributions change. Currently, they are given on the basis of concentrations in the distribution maps. Gallo-Belgic A is given to the Ambiani, one of the Belgic tribes. Long ago, it was attributed to the Bellovaci, whom Caesar named as the most warlike of the Belgic tribes. problems can occur when a coinage is determined to have been made for the hire of troops as they tend to end up where the troops came from rather than where they were issued. If you want to look at a very thorough treatment of the Belgic coinage then obtain Simone Scheers, Traité de numismatique celtique II: la Gaule belgique, Paris, 1977. You can read the start of Colin Haselgrove's Britannia review here. The book is the very model of good organization with classifications, die links (where known), distribution maps, find spot listings current whereabouts of the specimens and so on. Its 1977 publication date is useful in the fact that metal-detector use has not skewed the differences between continental and British finds. Not only is there no evidence that any of the Gallo-Belgic coins were issued in Britain, but there is clear and plentiful evidence that they were not.

Gallo-Belgic E coin attributed to the Ambiani,
but also commonly found in Britain
Image courtesy  of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
It has long been a feature of much British archaeological writing to de-emphasize the importance of the continent on the development of British Celtic artifacts, and coins are no exception. For example, in my Penguin edition of Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul (DBG), Caesar writes: "Caesar made active preparations for an expedition to Britain, because he knew that in almost all the Gallic campaigns the Gauls had received reinforcements from the Britons." (IV. 3.20). Attached to this statement is an editorial footnote which includes "Such assistance could hardly have been of much importance". Of course, no evidence is given for this editorial statement.

There is only one possible source for such evidence, and that is the British distribution of Gallo-Belgic E coins compared to the continental distribution of the same. These coins were minted to pay for the hire of troops. Of course (in Scheers), there are more of this type found on the continent than in South-east England. The relative size of the distribution areas being a major factor. Yet, there are a substantial percentage which are British finds. The exact numbers are difficult to estimate as some finds are only recorded as "a few" and the like. The big hoards are all continental, and the British finds are often just single coins or a few together. The actual numbers of finds are about the same in England as they are on the continent. If you were a Gaul fighting Caesar's forces, you would be more than likely to meet quite a number of Britons during the battles. Besides, Caesar is recognized as the most reliable ancient source for what was happening there and no one has ever caught him in a lie about anything. His commentaries even include mention of his errors. In this case, the evidence supports his statement, clearly and dramatically.

Much earlier evidence for British involvement in continental campaigns comes from British finds of the early copies of the gold stater of Philip II of Macedon. These were issued to purchase troops in the Italian campaigns until the fall of Taras to the Romans in 272 BC. and John Sills illustrates the six known examples in Imitation Philippi from Britain, in Chris Rudd, List 69, May, 2003. He does say, however, that these are not necessarily mercenary payments, but might have arrived through migrations from the continent.

Lest anyone doubt the association of gold coins with military payments, John Melville-Jones, Ancient Greek gold coinage up to the time of Philip of Macedon in Travaux de Numismatique Grecque Offerts à Georges Le Rider, Spink , London, 1999 says:
It should also be noted that when Philip’s gold coinage was being issued, or soon after, many other coinages in gold were issued in the Greek world which can be shown to have been struck for distribution to mercenary or to peregrine soldiers. In addition to the gold coins which were struck in Egypt, gold was struck in the 340s and later at Syracuse for Timoleon, at Taras in Calabria, and at Heracleia and Metapontum in Lucania. In every case it is assumed that the reason for striking coins in this metal was that easily portable wealth was required to pay foreign soldiers.
The earliest coinage of the Ambiani listed in Scheer are good copies of  a specific type from Taras that could only have been issued for payment of the defence of that city by Pyrrhus, starting in 280 BC., but are commonly dated earlier, inexplicably, sometimes circa 314 BC, (after the Italian campaigns of campaigns of Alexander the Molossian in 334-330 BC). These are struck in highly refined Mediterranean gold (about 95% fine). We can be sure that members of the Ambiani were among his Celtic troops. I first wrote about this connection shortly after the above was published, and John Melville-Jones told me that if he had known of it sooner he would have included it in his paper. The Ambiani large flan staters (Gallo-Belgic A) run about 67 - 86% fine; Ambiani Gallic War type (Gallo-Belgic E) 49 - 63% fine, and the earliest British types average a bit lower than this, but generally in the same range. These figures come from Peter Northover, Materials Issues in the Celtic Coinage, in Celtic Coinage: Britain and Beyond (bar).

Of course, how you evaluate what I have given here with the unspecified hints alluded to in the introductory chapter of Rethinking Celtic Art is entirely up to you.

Tomorrow, yet more weak arguments against Caesar's commentaries.

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